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Media Analyses





Huwaida Arraf's Flotilla Fable on BBC


Huwaida Arraf, a founder of the International Solidarity Movement, a leader of the Free Gaza Movement and a passenger on one of the "flotilla" vessels got to have her say on BBC Newsnight with anchor Kirsty Wark on June 2, 2010. Arraf made numerous absurd accusations against Israel with a straight face, and the interviewer let her get away with it. Trusting viewers — that is trusting the BBC to poke holes in a guest's dubious story — were led astray.

To her credit, Wark did begin by noting that videos of the Israeli landing on the Mavi Marmara, the large Turkish ship where passengers assaulted Israeli naval commandos, showed those on board were armed and ready with "sticks." Arraf, seemingly pained by the injection of such uncontestable context, simply denied knowledge of the reality documented in video clips appearing globally on networks and the Internet.
I don’t know. I can’t say that the people were armed and ready. We had discussed a lot about just using our bodies to repel an invasion by the Israelis.
The BBC interviewer let this go. And Arraf continued with a fable of heroic battle and attempted rescue of Gazans. Inevitably came the caricature of Israeli policy in Gaza — a picture devoid of any reference to the Palestinians' own responsiblity for their circumstances, especially their role in ongoing aggression against Israel. She said:
We were carrying ten thousand tons of different forms of aid needed in the Gaza Strip. From reconstruction supplies to school supplies and medical equipment. And while we fully intended, our goal was to reach Gaza with this aid, our goal is not to perpetuate this cycle of humanitarian aide because that is exactly what Israel's blockade is doing. It is squeezing the people of Gaza, letting a certain  small amount of aid in that doesn't meet the needs of the people and is strictly limited to a few kinds of items, so thousands of items are denied entry on the pretext of security but actually they have nothing to do with security.
 
Like why won't Israel allow in baby formula, or paper, books, oxygen, anesthetics? These are the kinds of things that we were carrying on our ships.
While the BBC interviewer was coming to the close of the interview with the voluble Arraf, this absurd charge needed rebuttal and none was offered. Ms. Wark should, with all the information available about humanitarian aid to Gaza, have been prepared with facts. After all, the Free Gaza Movement has claimed there are massive shortages in Gaza and their flotilla ostensibly aimed to serve the people of Gaza. Israel has argued otherwise, distributing detailed information about the convoys of aid provided. All Wark needed was minimal preparation, but she let Arraf's incendiary lies, among them that Israelis deprive babies of formula, go unanswered.
 
Israel transfers tons of baby formula to Gaza.Likewise paper and books are transferred. Medical supplies are also provided — all as part of a continual process of transferring convoys of food and other essentials into Gaza. The list below is but a summary of recent such material.
1) In the first quarter of 2010, Israel transferred 553 tons of milk powder and baby food.
 
2) In the first quarter of 2010, Israel shipped 152 trucks of medical supplies and equipment into Gaza. In a typical week (in May 2010), some 37 truckloads of hygiene products were shipped to Gaza through the land crossings. In addition, a new CAT scan machine was recently shipped to Gaza.
 
In 2009, Israel coordinated the transfer of medical supplies for the disabled including wheelchairs, crutches and first aid kits. Other equipment shipped to Gaza include heart-monitors, baby feeding tubes, dental equipment, medical books, ambulance emergency equipment, artificial limbs and infant sleeping bags.
 
3) Israel transfers school equipment supplied by UNRWA including notebooks, school bags, writing implements and textbooks. Israel is currently coordinating the transfer of 200,000 laptops for Gaza school children and the shipment of 74 maritime containers for conversion into Gaza classrooms.
 
In the first quarter of 2010, Israel transferred 250 trucks with equipment for the UNWRA summer camp, including arts-and-crafts equipment, swimming pools, inflatable toys, ice cream machines, musical instruments, clothing, sports equipment.
Arraf's facile deceptions in the BBC interview, including her indifference to the violence by Mavi Marmara passengers who assaulted lightly armed Israeli soldiers with rods, knives and other weaponry, are of a piece with her activity with the International Solidarity Movement. The ISM considers violence as well as non-violence to be suitable against Israel. Indeed, Arraf has said suicide bombings are "noble." According to a 2006 Washington Post column she has also admitted the group cooperates with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
 
Her ease in uttering serial false charges against Israel and her acceptance of violence as a legitimate course — are matters for the BBC to consider if the purpose of interviewing her is actually to inform the public and not simply to give a platform to a propagandist.
 
 

BBC Newsnight with Kirsty Wark, June 2, 2010
 
Transcript:
 
Kirsty Wark: I'm joined now from Ramallah by Huwaida Arraf from the Free Gaza Movement. She was on one of the six ships, the Challenger, which was raided by the Israeli's. Huwaida, first, you could see what was going on on the big Turkish ship and therefore from the reports also on our program tonight people were armed and ready with sticks to get the commanders as soon as they arrived on the boat is that the case?
 
Huwaida : Umm, I don't know, I can't say that the people were armed and ready. We had discussed a lot about using just our bodies to repel any invasion by the Israeli's. At the same time we had repeatedly called on the Israeli's not to attack our ships, not to use violence. They did radio us. We identified ourselves; we told them that we were unarmed civilians. We have parliamentarians with us, we have reports with us, doctors, journalists, lawyers and we are carrying humanitarian aide headed for the Gaza strip. There is no reason to use force against us. They chose, unfortunately, to use violence. I was on the Challenger One, which is an American flagged ship. It was the smallest of the ships, the vessels that were on the flotilla. We were traveling almost side by side with the Mave Marmara, the Turkish ship, and so I could see the beginnings of the attack on that ship. I could see Israeli navel forces when they approached by sea and the concussion grenades that they threw in and also some firing. I don't know what it was in terms of what kind of bullets they were firing but Israeli commandos were definitely firing and then the captain took our ship full steam ahead because we were trying to, before we were overtaken, to get some news out to the international community.
 
Unfortunately, all of our satellite systems were jammed and after about fifteen minutes of trying to outrun the Israeli navel forces they surrounded our ship. They threw concussion grenades on our boat, used tasers and then boarded masked and with their weapons. With their rifles actually cocked and ready and they also had dogs with them. We tried to get them off just with our bodies and to prevent them from overtaking the ship. They beat many of us, one volunteer ended up with a bloody face. My head smashed against the deck of the boat.

Wark: I just wanted to ask you one other question about this. What our reporter, Tim Hew was saying was that he, certainly in terms of the biggest ship; this was not primarily from the biggest ships point of view about aide. It was about six hundred or more so activists protesting about the blockade. Is that the case?

Huwaida: We were carrying ten thousand tons of different forms of aid needed in the Gaza Strip. From reconstruction supplies to school supplies and medical equipment. And while we fully intended, our goal was to reach Gaza with this aid, our goal is not to perpetuate this cycle of humanitarian aide because that is exactly what Israel's blockade is doing. It is squeezing the people of Gaza, letting a certain small amount of aide in that doesn't meet the needs of the people and is strictly limited to a few kinds of items. So thousands of items are denied entry under the pretext of security but actually they have nothing to do with security. Like why won't Israel allow in baby formula or paper books? Oxygen, anesthetics? These are the kind of things that we were carrying on our ships. We wanted to deliver them because they are much needed in Gaza but also because we need to challenge the policy that leaves Gaza in need of humanitarian aid.

Wark: Thank you for joining me tonight.


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